Tuolumne County supervisors approved a comprehensive update to the General Plan on Thursday in what will likely be the final official action before two of them leave office.
The board voted 5-0 to pass the document that establishes goals and policies related to growth and development in the county over the next 20-plus years.
This comes six years after the board and county staff started work on updating the plan and 22 years after the previous plan was approved on the day after Christmas.
Several supervisors took aim at people who have complained about the public hearings to approve the plan being scheduled during the holiday season and four days before two incoming supervisors take their seats.
“It is cheap and insulting for people to say this is being rushed,” said outgoing District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce, who made the motion to approve the document.
Outgoing District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt seconded Royce’s motion to approve plan and said delaying it would “inane.”
Hanvelt was defeated in the Nov. 6 election by first-time candidate Ryan Campbell, who will be sworn into office at a special meeting on Monday.
Campbell and some of his supporters have been critical of the board for approving the long-term plan before he had a chance to provide input.
District 3 Supervisor-elect Anaiah Kirk, who will also be sworn in Monday, spoke at the meeting on Thursday in support of the board approving the plan before he takes his seat.
Fewer people spoke Thursday than at a previous public hearing on Dec. 19, when the county Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the plan amid a strong showing of opposition.
This time, however, those who voiced support for the plan outnumbered those opposed 13 to five.
Those who spoke in opposition to the plan largely argued that the plan favors development interests over conservation of environmental and historic resources.
“It appears to have been written by and on behalf of the development community and with little consideration for the environmental community and the unique resources in this county,” said Tom Parrington, of the Central Sierra Audubon Society.
People who spoke in favor of the plan on Thursday included developers, members of the Tuolumne County Business Council, and others who stand to gain from increased development.
John Buckley, of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, said the plan lacked adequate provisions for protecting scenic areas that drive tourism – the county’s top economic engine.
Some dismissed the opponents as people who are against growth.
Ron Kopf, executive director of the Tuolumne County Business Council, cited a planning professor from University of California, Los Angeles, who said that local opposition is often a key inhibitor to the availability of affordable housing.
“People tend to resist change, and after they have moved into their homes and neighborhoods, they often do not want additional homes built on property nearby,” said Kopf, who’s partnering with developer Krag Brotby on a 29-home subdivision near Wards Ferry and Tuolumne roads in East Sonora.
aKopf also served on the Board of Supervisors’ Planning Committee that helped craft the changes to the plan.
Frank Helm, co-owner of Dodge Ridge Ski Area near Pinecrest, said he supported the plan because it would increase housing by reducing regulations and speeding up the county permitting process for projects.
Dave Stapp, of Sonora, said he and his wife are interested in developing affordable housing for seniors and were in favor of the plan.
Others who spoke in favor included Brotby, home builder Mike Lemke, and Dore Bietz, assistant planner for the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians.
Bietz also read a statement of support for the plan from Tribal Chairman Kevin Day.
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer thanked the people who spoke at the meeting and said that their opinions were valued regardless which side of the argument they were on.
Rodefer said he understood the amount of work by county staff that went into developing the plan “at least as much as the rest of the board, and certainly more than the public.”
The only changes the board requested be made to the document before approving was reverting 10 parcels in the western part of the county back to agriculture that were proposed to be changed to rural residential.
District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan raised the issue about the change in designation for the land, which she said was in an area at the heart of high-value agriculture land in the county.
Brennan also said that she didn’t believe the plan was a “perfect document,” but noted that it can be amended up to four times per year.
“This is going to have the opportunity to evolve,” she said. “If anyone believes for one moment this is something that has been pushed through in the last 60 or 90 days, they just haven’t been watching or listening to this board.”
The process of developing the plan began in 2012 with the formation of the board’s planning committee, which held public meetings throughout the process.
An initial proposed draft of the updated plan was released to the public in 2015, but the board chose not to adopt it at the time over a number of concerns.
In early 2017, the board made it a goal to adopt the final updated plan by the end of the following year.
Another draft of the proposed plan was released for public comment in late August.
The final proposed version four-volume document that totals more than 1,000 pages combined was released on Dec. 6.